Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When science goes too far, and man “kills God”

Many of us get excited when we hear about the newest scientific enhancements that are supposed to improve our world, and many of these do. However, many of us also accept that sometimes science goes too far. In our modern culture we see several examples where people use their imaginations to present situations where the science has, in some people’s eyes, overstepped our mortal boundaries and trespassed into the territory or playing God, often with disastrous results upon the offenders.
               The first example would be in the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Dr. Frankenstein was obsessed with finding the components of life, and thanks to dark experimentation he created a grotesque monster. This creation spent its life in terrible loneliness, for he was never referred to as a human or treated humanely, even by his creator. The monster ended up going mad, stalking Frankenstein and, after Frankenstein continued to reject his own creation, killing several of Dr. Frankenstein’s loved ones. Dr. Frankenstein asked the monster what it would take to get him to stop. The monster simply asks for a female companion so that he would not be alone. Before Frankenstein grants his wish, however, he becomes fearful of bringing another creature into the world and destroys her, sealing both his and the monster’s fate of destruction.
 Thanks to Frankenstein’s act of playing God and his lack of compassion he was left with a creature that had no place in the world, leading to the destruction of them both. The creation of new life cannot be taken lightly. If such a situation were to happen, where an intelligent being was created, it creates the problems of deciding whether the creation should have human rights and how we should treat it. Also this creature would be stuck in the terrible place of not belonging, leading to the same mental anguish as Frankenstein’s monster. The monster’s personality was darkened by lack of love and a sense of belonging. Tampering with intelligent life can be seen to create more suffering than good.
               The creation of life that no longer exists on Earth can be equally controversial. In the case of Jurassic Park, a book by Michael Chrichton and its film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg, dinosaurs are resurrected to be displayed and studied within an island resort. The owner John Hammond believes they are under his control. As pointed out by the character Ian Malcom though, “life finds a way.” After several disastrous events one after the other it is clear that this ancient nature cannot be controlled. Toying with de-extinction is risky. In the case of dinosaurs, the Earth’s environment no longer supports these organisms which have been extinct for millions of years.
 It is also unclear whether or not these animals could even be considered actual dinosaurs. The DNA of the animals of Jurassic Park was patched and modified. Empty spaces were filled with the DNA of frogs (part of the reason why the island spires out of control), and in the book the animals’ genetic code was tampered with to make the dinosaurs more docile. These changes where to not only enable the creatures to exist in the first place, but to also be under the control of man. However, in the book Hammond expresses concerns over the fact that he thinks guests would be happier seeing ‘real’ dinosaurs, animals as close to the original as possible, without the traits causing them to be less ‘wild’. But even if the animals were tampered with as little as possible, it could be argued still that, even though we think they look like dinosaurs, they cannot be considered dinosaurs. The problem is the limitation of man’s knowledge. We cannot know for certain how the dinosaurs behaved or looked like millions of years ago. However, the scientists of Jurassic Park attempt to play God and eventually suffer for the results. The scientists assume that they know what could go wrong, that they understood these animals because they created them, and that they had placed the appropriate measures to control their miniature ecosystem. They with their limited knowledge were not prepared for the chaos. Dinosaurs would catch mysterious illnesses, a disgruntled worker would shut off the electric fences, the frog DNA caused some of the animals to become male allowing them to breed, and deadly predators hunted the island’s visitors and workers. The animals prove to be beyond their control, and the island resort is evacuated, but not before several people were killed.
 Mankind often assumes that with the technology we have we are above nature and thus command the Earth and its life. What is important to realize is that we do not have control. Natural disasters occur constantly, and slowly we begin to realize that we are not all powerful. Stories like Jurassic Park are there to remind us of our own mortal limitations, that mankind was never meant to play God. As said by the character Ian Malcom, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”


  1. Anonymous11:15 PM CST

    Jeffrey LaPorte
    Honors philosophy
    Group members: Holly Aslinger, Rebecca Clippard, Victoria Lay
    Our Groups is analyzing the philosophical concepts explored in science fiction. My specific area is different visions of the future and what they say about our modern belief in societies direction and the nature of humanity as a whole. Some works of science fiction show a bright future for mankind. Technology cures all our ills and people of all sexes, races, and religions live together in sleek chrome colored comfort and harmony. Some examples of this kind of future are found in A Brave New World, The Foundation Trilogy and most famously Gen Roddenberry’s Star Trek. In the midst of the Cold War, when the whole world was divided ideologically and always preparing for conflict he envisioned a future built around exploration and science. This represents a belief that man is fundamentally good and that all our current problems are merely bumps in the rode to developing the perfect society that is the inevitable result of our advancement. However it is far more common for science fiction to portray a bleak destiny for humanity. Stories like Blade Runner, Snowpeircer and a seemingly endless stream of dystopian Y.A. fiction novels depict a world where humanities penchant for selfishness and laziness has led to the destruction of our planet and endangered our species. This apocalypse is more adaptable then its utopian counterpart and its varied forms can hold many different messages and statements about the nature of our existence. In works like Firefly, and Interstellar the earth is destroyed by ecological catastrophe but man survives by packing up and taking to the stars. Though this represents a belief that mankind is fundamentally shortsighted and selfish it also shows a sliver of hope in the belief that we will save ourselves through ingenuity and that our destiny is to leave behind the cradle of Earth and pursue our destiny among the stars. A much darker prediction of the future shows humanity who failed to escape and is left struggling to survive amidst the remnants of a destroyed earth. Examples of these post apocalyptic works include The Road, The Book of Eli, and pretty much every zombie franchise ever created. These works exemplify Thomas Hobbes idea of the state of nature where life is “nasty, brutish and short”. In post apocalyptic settings when all government institutions and societal trappings have been disposed of most people are revealed to be self-serving animals. The strong prey upon the week and humanity is shown to be truly savage in nature. Finally there is the currently most popular of imagined futures, the totalitarian dystopia. In works such as 1984, The Hunger Games, and its host of spinoffs (Maze Runner, Divergent et al.) the future is controlled by a manipulative ironfisted government that brutally oppresses it’s citizens. These works show a total opposition for Machiavellian political philosophy for even though these villains’ actions may be necessary for the preservation of society in the post apocalyptic conditions there actions are wrong based on some inherent morality with little basis outside of what the protagonist and creator believe to be right. Our view of the future can tell us a lot about what we really think about mankind and the true inner nature of us all so perhaps we should all consider “Were do you think we are going?”

  2. Rebecca Clippard8:00 AM CST

    Philosophy in Science Fiction: Artificial Intelligence
    Artificial intelligence technology has not caught up with movies and literature, but I am focusing on the science fiction aspect of AI. Think iconic figures such as Wall-E, Hal 9000, and astroboy. Can such created, artificial intelligence have souls? Are they capable of emotions? Souls are difficult to pinpoint scientifically. Even for humans. Lobotomies cut away central parts of the brain and take away a person’s personality but perhaps that is the function and motor aspects and not the soul itself? Computers and robots also have physical parts that, if taken away would inhibit their functions. Some argue that animals do not have souls, but robots are not animal, plant or mineral. Nor would we consider them human. But movies give robots emotions. Wall-E is the most straightforward example but the robot from the movie Bicentennial Man, and even Hal 9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey exhibit wishes and desires not normally associated with modern robotic technology. Wall-E’s curiosity leads him to discover his likes and dislikes. He forms opinions and shows emotions even as he has limited human interaction. Human create robots. If robots are capable of emotions, even if we cannot prove they have a soul, this places humans in an interesting position. We would have created created a new form of life, making us god-like in ability. Does this place too much power into human hands? At the same time humans gain this ability, we lose it. Humans create machines as a solution to human problems. Wall-E was originally created to clean up the planet, to help get rid of our pollution. And he’s not the only one. There is Hal 9000, the mega computer Colossus from the book series by the same name, and the robots from I,robot (not the movie, the book. which you should all read). When we want computers to take care of us, to have abilities we do not, this leads to robots stepping the human-created bounds. And this makes sense. If you program intelligent robots to protect humans, as happens in I,robot then they begin to protect humans against themselves. Spoiler: Robots are quietly allowed to take over human’s power. Thus is the pattern when intelligent robots have a large population, they tend to act aggressively. If there were a million astroboys would they try and rescue humans from themselves, as they would perceive it? A more modern interpretation is not the inevitable robot apocalypse, but the idea of coexistence. Wall-E and friends save the humans and together they want to rebuild the Earth (spoiler again, sorry). But how would humans coexist with robots, who can do so much more than they can? If robots can think and are capable of genuine emotion and can think faster than humans, would they become the dominant species? Thus far, science fiction has stayed away from the ideas of robots as a species because they lack key life requirements. They cannot reproduce and do not metabolize. But if these were somehow solved without explanation, as often happens in science fiction, you might get worlds that contain similar technology but are populated by robots...or cars.

  3. Group: Holly Aslinger, Rebecca Clippard, Jeffrey LaPorte, Victoria Lay
    section H01

  4. In my part of the presentation, I explore the concept of God in science fiction. I do not go into the concept of an actual higher power as much, however, as I do the idea of man attempting to become a god through advances in science and through recreating life. In Frankenstein, for instance, Dr. Frankenstein tells himself that his dogged pursuit of creating life will yield insurmountable advances in science, and that it will ultimately benefit mankind. He will be this creature’s creator—its god. I explore how Nietzsche’s theory of the Ubermensch applies to Dr. Frankenstein, and how Dr. Frankenstein does not necessarily think of himself as better than others, but he does, however, make the huge decision to try to create a new species without considering the moral implications of doing so. His excessive arrogance is what makes him the ubermensch, or overman; he thinks that his scientific “breakthrough” will affect history indefinitely, and this idea makes him a sort of false “overman.” In science fiction, it is almost a trope that man gets too cocky and tries too hard to be in control of the laws of nature, and it almost always backfires. Man tries to be his own god, and this backfires. I then explain that science is a way for people to find out the truth about nature, and science fiction is a way for man to pretend that he can control it. Science does not, however, yield answers about the divine, as there is no definite tangible evidence of a higher power. The next thing in my part of the presentation is a video that explains that the type of god that science fiction wants is a god that can explain the laws of nature—a god that fits into those laws. Since there is no conclusive tangible evidence of a higher power, I explore not only the way that man tries to be a god and take control of nature—which could possibly reflect mankind’s insecurities and his fear that he cannot do so—and how man creates gods. Man creates gods by inventing advanced technology that usually, in science fiction, takes on a mind of its own. This technology, though it often has its own personalities like in Star Wars and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as video games such as Portal, can become a god to mankind. The supercomputer in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has the capacity to take on philosophical questions and determine the meaning of life. This computer is revered as a god in many aspects. GLaDOS, from the video game Portal, is meant to guide the player’s actions and advance the plot of the game, but is not overtly regarded as a god. However, as the game progresses it becomes more and more evident that GLaDOS is a malevolent force and that she has more control over your life and the outcome of your actions than you once thought. GLaDOS is thus a god in her own right, based on her abilities. This concludes my portion of the project.

  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU